Simon Carr: The Sketch

PM's newest admirer bends over backwards
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The Independent Online

Nor was I the only one in this new posture. Michael Howard will be sore in the morning. He found himself bent over backwards as Tony Blair's newest admirer. "Calm, resolute, statesmanlike," he described his young opponent. I thought he meant it. Mr Blair thought he meant it and lowered his voice two full tones when he replied, praising Mr Howard's "dignity in the face of evil". The respect agenda is gaining traction; Mr Blair's ability to create the weather is unprecedented.

Luckily we had G8, and that restored something of our former ease.

The PM mentioned that life expectancy in certain African countries was heading towards 27. That really is exceptional. That's as bad as it has been in the past half-million years. A continent filled with all natural wealth - diamonds, gold, oil; apes, ivory, peacocks - offers a pre-Neanderthal life expectancy for its inhabitants. But here again, Mr Blair has delivered a "mighty achievement". The doubling of aid. The debt write-off. The eradication of polio this year. Free primary education for all.

"However," he said, "none of it can be implemented". I stopped taking notes. None of it can be implemented, full stop? "None of it can be implemented without a change in African governance." It may come to the same full stop. Of Zimbabwe's neighbours and their refusal to do anything about Mugabe, he muttered in a sub-parliamentary way: "I can't understand it - well, I can understand it but I can't excuse ..."

So Africa's going to have to pull its socks up - and so's the G8. Mr Blair's great achievement has been to make his leader group agree to do things. As Charlie Kennedy said, that isn't the same as doing them.

So Mr Blair agreed that follow-up mechanisms are needed to monitor progress year by year. Because, as we know, only half to a third of pledged national aid is ever delivered. And if polio is eliminated this year, I'll eat my hat. But that's for 2006; and there's a long, petal-strewn road to travel.

"Is Blair going to call a government of national unity?" a colleague asked. I must get my tenner on a fourth election victory for Mr Blair (the odds aren't as long as you'd think).